Wednesday, December 29, 2004


It's been a while since I posted anything here, but since I'm pretty much the only one who's been reading it, and I haven't minded, I figured it wouldn't be too much of a problem. I hope everyone out there in imaginary reader land had a happy kwaanzaaaaa or Xmas or what have you.

Now to baseball.

Its been a fast and crazy off season, but the World Champion Red Sox seem to have settled on an opening day lineup. I hesitate to call it anything more than that, because, well, you never know with Theo, but we do have a pretty good idea about which players will comprise the 2005 Red Sox who will run out onto the field at Yankee Stadium for opening day this coming April.

Down in the Bronx, and just like last off season, the Yankees are spending money like the world is at an end. This is even before they add the two guys who will presumably be the face of the organization in 2005, in Carlos Beltran and Randy Johnson. As soon as those two get to the Bronx everyone will start handing the 2005 World Series trophy to the Yankees.

I'm going to preemptively call a halt to that preemptive prognostication. Now, I realize that pitching is everything, but I thought I'd check in on the offenses and focus on changes in the two team's lineups in this post.

Despite adding A-Rod and Sheffield the Yankees still ranked behind the Red Sox in offensive output last year. In 2004 the Red Sox led all teams in runs with 949, which is 52 more than A-Rod's Yankees could muster. The Sox also had the majors' highest on base percentage (.360), slugging percentage (.472) and (of course) the highest OPS (.832).

There have been changes in both the Fens and the Bronx over this off season and so I'd like to present a rudimentary study exploring how productive the 2005 Red Sox offense might be compared to that of their rivals.

Of course, I'm going to make a number of assumptions that will no doubt render my argument inaccurate almost immediately. But go with me.

First, I'm going to assume that the Yankees will sign Carlos Beltran. That may not happen (he has a number of other suitors) but with Scott Boras as his agent and guiding force, I think the smart money has him taking the most money, which will inevitably be flowing from George Steinbrenner's ample wallet. Second, I'm going to assume that Theo Epstein trades Doug Mientkiewitz and keeps Kevin Millar's offense at first base (as well as for the potential of a Miller to Mueller to Millar double play). Third, I'm going to assume that the Yankees won't be able to get rid of Jason Giambi and with Beltran in center field and Bernie Williams at DH, will have to stash him at first base (unless Williams plays first and Giambi plays DH, either way I'm going to include his bat in this comparison). Finally, fourth, for the purposes of this simple study, I'm just going to look at the starters and assume that any drop off from occasionally playing bench players will be more or less equal for both teams.

For the comparison I'm going to go by a simple stat, OPS, which most people (most importantly myself) can comprehend, but I'm going to make most guesses based on the average of the past three years for players. I'll throw in a bit of wiggle room for myself to temper the raw numbers in certain situations.

So, let's get to it! In 2004, the year the Red Sox won the World Series (have I mentioned that?), the Boston lineup looked like this:

1. Damon CF
2. Belhorn 2B
3. Garciaparra/Cabrera SS
4. Manny LF
5. Ortiz DH
6. Millar 1B
7. Veritek C
8. Mueller 3B
9. Kapler RF

while the Yankees lineup looked like this:

1. Jeter SS
2. A-Rod 3B
3. Matsui RF
4. Sheffield LF
5. Williams/Lofton CF
6. Posada C
7. Sierra DH
8. Clark/Olerud 1B
9. Cairo 2B

I might have the order a bit off, but I know if it fluctuated a bit, the basic players are still correct. The 2005 lineups (with the above caveats are below)

1. Damon CF
2. Renteria SS (new)
3. Manny LF
4. Ortiz DH
5. Nixon RF (new)
6. Veritek C
7. Millar 1B
8. Muller 3B
9. Bellhorn 2B

New York
1. Womack 2B (new)
2. Jeter SS
3. Beltran CF (new)
4. Sheffield RF
5. A-Rod 3B
6. Matsui LF
7. Giambi 1B (new)
8. Posada C
9. Williams DH

I've marked bats that were not prominently displayed in the '04 lineups, but will be so in '05 as new. The Red Sox are trading a season of Garciaparra/Cabrera for a season of Renteria, and a season of Kapler for Nixon. The latter is definitely an upgrade. We'll see about the first in a second. The Yankees are exchanging Cairo for Womack, probably a downgrade, Beltran for Williams in center field (huge upgrade), and the Clark/Olerud combo for new improved Giambi (now with less flaxseed oil!).

In 2004 Nomar had a .867 OPS in 38 games for Boston. His replacement, Orlando Cabrera, had a .785 OPS in 58 games for Boston. The other 60ish games were staffed by Pokey Reese (.574 OPS in 96 games, some of which came at shortstop), and Caesar Crespo (.380 OPS in 52 games, some at short). In short, the Sox got some pretty piss poor offensive production from the shortstop position without Nomar in the lineup. Cabrera did a good job once the post season rolled around, and obviously fit into the clubhouse, but between him, Crespo and the defensively amazing, yet offensively impotent Reese, the Red Sox can only do better at the position in 2005. Maybe this is why Epstein was willing to pay so much to bring Renteria into the fold. A little stability goes a long way. I counted all Nomar's 38 games, all Cabrera's 58, 56 for Reese and 10 for Crespo. This may not be quite historically accurate, but I bet it's close. Based on those numbers, I calculated the OPS that the Sox got out of the shortstop position last season is around .693. Renteria's average OPS for the last three years is .802. Thats a 100 point jump in OPS at shortstop for Boston if Renteria has just an average season.

In right field the Red Sox plattooned Gabe Kapler, some of an injured Trot Nixon, a bit of David McCarty and some Kevin Millar. Mostly it was Kapler though. Kapler had an OPS of .700 last season. Millar hit better and played about as much as McCarty did in right so we'll call it even and leave the number at about .700. Assuming Nixon is healthy, he'll get the vast majority of playing time next season. Nixon's OPS numbers for the last three seasons (including last season) are .808 .975 .887. It could be argued that after returning from injury Nixon will once again join the best right fielders in baseball, but I'd be content if he just put up an average year (for him) of about .875. If he does that, he'll be bettering the Red Sox output from last year at his position by .175 OPS points.

So, reasonably the Red Sox two major lineup changes have netted them .275 OPS points. It's reasonable to expect that Manny and Johnny Damon won't be as productive next season as they were in '04, so we could call the offense essentially unchanged as far as output potential goes.

The Yankees changes have been stranger, for sure. First, they decided that Miguel Cairo wanted too much money, so they signed Tony Womack to take his place. Womack had a good year for the Cardinals last year. However, take a look at his last four seasons:

2001 .652 OPS
2002 .678
2003. 520 (a quick average, as he played for three teams that year)
2004 .735

While 2003 seems a bit low, 2004 also seems a bit high. In fact last year was Womack's highest OPS since getting into 17 games for the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1996. In other words, I wouldn't expect him to be anything more (or less) than an offensive sinkhole in '05. When you contrast what the Yankees got out of Miguel Cairo in 2004 (.763 OPS) with what they should expect out of Tony Womack in 2005 (.620) you get what we like to call a negative differential of -.143. Will that be cancelled out by improved defense? Well, I've never seen Womack play other than in spring training last season (he fled the Red Sox camp when he realized he wouldn't be starting anywhere) and in the World Series when he wasn't doing much of anything (two singles in eleven at-bats with a .432 OPS), but everything I've read on the subject seems to agree the answer is no. Just a guess, but the Yankees will likely be looking for a second baseman when next year's trading deadline roles around.

The next change they made (or will make) in New York, is adding Carlos Beltran's .920 OPS to their lineup. Due to his massively inflated salary it won't replace Bernie Williams' bat in the lineup so much as it'll replace his glove in the field. I suspect that Williams will be moved to a first base and DH platoon role, though he is likely to spell Beltran in center occasionally. For our purposes here, I'll say that Beltran's bat will be replacing last year's Yankee's DH, who was usually the homer-or-nothing-at-all Ruben Sierra who appeared in 107 games and posted an OPS of .752, though an on-base percentage of .296. It's true that Sierra wasn't the DH every day. Sometimes it was Tony Clark (.755 OPS), or John Olerud (.763). Still, their numbers are all remarkably similar. Replacing all those plate appearances with Beltran is a huge upgrade and more than makes up for the switch over at second base.

Where the Yankees are likely to regress is at first base. Olerud and Clark covered first for the Yankees last year (when they weren't DHing) because Jason Giambi was out with just about every ailment in the book. You name it, he had it. Giambi's health is still up for questioning coming into the 2005 season. The leaked testimony confirming his use of steroids comes as little suprise to anyone who compared pictures of his pre2004 form to the Giambi that showed up at Yankees training camp for the '04 season. Its highly questionable if he'll ever gain his strength, all-star stroke, or even his health again. However, for the purposes of this, I'm willing to say he'll be the primary first baseman for the Yankees in 2005, maybe splitting time with Bernie Williams at DH and first base. Either way his bat is likely to be in the lineup. It won't be an easy year for Giambi. He's going to be the subject of vitriol from even his home fans the likes of which haven't been seen since Roberto Alomar spit on an umpire in the mid 90's. Playing on the road will likely be worse. Still, his contract combined with his now sullied reputation combine to make him utterly untradable, even for a team willing to eat almost all of his salary like the Yankees surely are.

Last season, for a 100 win team, the Yankees got remarkably poor production out of their first base position. Unless they are willing to eat all Giambi's deal and sign a guy like Delgado, they're likely to be in the same predicament this coming season as well. Olerud was not offered a contract, and Clark's el foldo down the stretch makes it unlikely that New York brings him back. More likely they'll try to teach Williams to play first, and give his knees a rest by playing Giambi or someone they drag in off the street. In either case they aren't likely to improve on last year's .750ish OPS at first base. Williams is getting years older by the day, and Giambi might be healthy, but I wouldn't put a dime on it. It's quite likely they'll both miss a good bit of time this year which the Yankees will have to fill by signing a stopgap. The OPS they get from first base in 2005 will probably be in the low .700s.

So, what does all this mean? Well, it doesn't mean much, but in the course of this study, it looks like, though there have been some changes, the two teams offensive outputs will be quite similar to their outputs in 2004. I'd say the Red Sox probably have more upside mostly due to the old age of the Yankees players. The older players get, the more the tend to decline and maybe more importantly get injured. Sheffield, Williams, Womack and Giambi are all significant injury risks going into the season for New York. Nixon is the only Red Sox who missed any time the last couple years and he figures to be healthy in 2005.

For the Yankees to win the AL East again, offensively they're going to have to sign Beltran, avoid injuries to Williams who can still be a productive bat at the DH, and get some production out of Giambi. To me, the Red Sox have fewer question marks. They've upgraded at shortstop and in right field, and the only downgrade should come either through injuries or the normal down trending due to aging.

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